Metal Max Returns (メタルマックスリターンズ), released 9/29/1995, developed by Data East
This is a remake of the long-running Metal Max series. Metal Max 2 was an early game I played for this blog, and in that post I mentioned that the newest game would be coming out that year — that was Metal Max Xeno (2018). Since then there has been an enhanced version of Xeno as well as a new game, Metal Dogs, that came out last year.
The remake completely redid the graphics, and they look better than Metal Max 2. The rest of the system and gameplay is essentially the same as Metal Max 2, which I don’t believe was all that different from the original Famicom game. From what I can see, the non-graphical changes to the game are mostly minor balance adjustments and things of that nature — with one exception, which I’ll mention later.
As with Metal Max 2, this is a non-linear, open-world-ish game. We’ve seen a number of these on the blog, and they’ve all used various methods to accomplish the non-linear gameplay. What Metal Max Returns does is essentially to separate the world into four or five regions. You have to accomplish something to get to the next region, and then there is a final boss. But the number of things you actually are required to do to win the game is very small, and most of the content is not required. However, you will not be able to beat the final boss (or the Big Cannons at the end of the second area) if you try to only do strictly what is required. So the rest of the content in the game is just there to give you interesting things to do while you build up your tanks and strength. The main change in Returns is that original had (I think) five bosses that blocked your way to new areas, where as Returns has only two (including the final boss series).
Just as in MM2, MMR has sixteen wanted monsters that you can beat to get XP and money. All of them are optional. There are also eight tanks you can acquire. I managed to get all the tanks and fifteen of the sixteen wanted monsters (two of them are very rare encounters). Some of them randomly appear in certain areas of the world map or in dungeons, others are found as specific encounters. You can run away from them in general so if you encounter them when you don’t want to fight them you can get away.
The game does not really have a story. The main character is the son of a mechanic, who kicks him out of the house when he decides to become a Hunter. Beyond that, there’s no real overall story development until the final boss. You can end the game at any time by returning to your dad and saying you want to quit being a Hunter. You have to confirm it four times and the last time he says “Are you serious? I’m going to save over your file now.” If you do that after you have beaten the final boss, you see the credits and ending sequence.
The tank system is the same as MM2. You have various types of weapons you can put on (if you have the right attachments on your tank), special weapons, and items. Everything has a weight, and the tank can only support a certain amount of weight determined by the chassis. Any leftover weight allowance will be “armor tiles”, which are essentially the tank’s HP. Once a tank’s armor tiles run out, further attacks will start destroying parts of the tank until it can no longer move. Parts can also be destroyed by certain attacks. This game also has the bird shit and mushrooms that take up space and have to get cleaned. You can tow one tank if it’s inoperable.
There is no game over; if you die your dad pulls you back to the first town and Dr. Minch (who was also in MM2) revives you. However, your companions are not there and I never figured out how to get them back, so I always reset when I got a game over.
Getting out of the first area just requires finding the first tank in the nearby cave. You can also clear the first wanted group here, the Salmonella Gang.
Getting out of the second area requires defeating two Mega Cannons. It would be basically impossible to go straight there and do it, but there are quite a few different places you can go in the second area first. My general method on gaining access to a new area was first to explore the whole land area to get it in my map, and to visit all the towns to see what kind of wanted monsters I could learn about and what new equipment I could buy. In the second area the main places are the factories at the shore, and some wanted monsters that can be picked up here.
Eventually after buying armor piercing shells, recruiting the second character (a mechanic) and getting a Buggy for him, and upgrading everyone, I was ready for the big cannons…more or less.
I had to use my full complement of armor piercing shells and most of my other resources. You have to beat two but can do them one at a time, which helps. After this, we open the third area.
Here you can pick up the third character, a soldier. Some players seem to have had a lot of difficulty activating the event that lets you recruit her but for me it just happened without issue. But it was a long time before I could get a third tank to give her one. This is also where you can now upgrade tanks by modifying their chassis to give them more weight allowance, and other such things.
From here to the end, the only required boss is the final sequence of boss battles at the end of the game. So by selective running from fights and such, you could now go all the way to the final area — getting out of the 3rd area is just talking to some people and going through a dungeon, and getting to the final area involves talking to some people in a tower. I did not go this quickly, though. A third tank is available by beating Mad Muscle but I found him very difficult and was not able to do it until I came back much later.
At this point I’m not sure I want to give a detailed recounting of everything I did; there’s no real story and I basically followed the outline I said above. Explore a whole region, buy new things, then start going in the dungeons in the area to see what I can find. Beat any wanted monsters I am able to, and go back to previous areas to sop up the wanted monsters I skipped.
Getting to one of the area involves toppling a tower to cover the water.
Anyway, eventually I had all 8 tanks and had beaten 14 of the 16 wanted monsters. The 15th one I was going to deal with, Bad Valdez, was quite challenging. However, raising your level helps quite a bit. I think I was at level 27 or so when I finally took him down.
The final dungeon is the Global Relief Center. At various points in the game you can hear some rumors about Noah, the computer system here. It turns out that Noah was created by scientists to fix the environmental problems in the world, and decided that the best way to fix them was to wipe out humanity. So Noah was the cause of the world apocalypse, and is also responsible for all the robots and such that are afflicting the world.
Noah has several forms, but I found him much easier than the final bosses of Metal Max 2. He hits just as hard but has fairly low HP.
Afterwards, I returned to my dad and told him I was ready to be a mechanic.
Then the credits roll and we get our stats and the level each wanted monster was beaten at. Afterwards it seems that Kurisu gets bored being a mechanic and goes off to be a Hunter again.
In the end I liked this game a lot more than Metal Max 2. I found the less restrictive nature of MMR was more fun. I still wish there were more complexity to the non-tank battle system since you have to use it so much. Has anyone played any more recent Metal Max series games?
I liked this one as well. The first game I played was actually Metal Saga in the 2000s; back in the 90s I was big on Wasteland/Fallout and the entire postapocalyptic genre, so Metal Saga was right up my alley. I’ve played all the mainline games in the series since. I don’t recommend Xeno/Xeno Reborn personally; they’re some of the weaker entries in the series. Metal Dogs is just a Diablo clone, not that great either. Metal Max 3 (NDS) and 4 (3DS) were my favourites. The NDS remake of 2 is also better than the original in my opinion. There’s also another NDS game, but it’s quite bad – you have to do just about everything with the stylus, and it’s mostly completely linear, which goes against the spirit of this series. There were also some browser/mobile games, but I think they have been shut down. You can try out Metal Saga games, as they tend to be the most open-world overall.
It will always be one of my favorite SNES RPG, but I prefer 100x more the remake of the second one on DS.
I tried the first one on PS2, the game was okay, but I was dissapointed by the lazy level design (a lot of copy pasted dungeon map), and it felt bugged… or maybe not ?
An exemple, in the game a Wanted Monster was linked with a town quest, I died by this Wanted Monster, I thought the town could be destroyed but… no, and when I returned to kill the WM, he was disappeared.
I was so much disgusted I dropped the game. 🙁
MM2 was not as good as Returns for me but I would be interested to see how the DS remake is.
Otherwise I really really love your blog and I read a lot of your playthrought/review, because I also played to a lot of snes and pc-engine jrpg in japanese, and now I just don’t know what to play so I decided some month ago to play every jrpg games released in release date order, I abandon often if the game is really no fun, but I completed a lot of game with this way(I think I don’t have the same endurence than you.)
I did it with snes, gb, pc-engin, ps1, and now DS.
I would do things differently if I were starting over again; I’ve definitely spent way too much time playing shitty games (and the game I’m playing now is not very good).
The SRPGs are more tolerable because I do not force myself to finish bad games (although I enjoy mediocre/poor SRPGs a lot more than mediocre/poor SNES regular RPGs).
I thought it was weird they redid Metal Max Xeno so quickly after the first time, but I guess it’s actually a series tradition. (Although I suppose that was more of a mulligan than a full remake…)
Metal Max Returns is one of my favorite SNES RPGs. I always seem to have a problem with choice paralysis come the middle-game, though, so I’ve never finished it.